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Love at first sight

By Helen Pankowsky, MD

I was a mother of a pre-adolescent boy juggling between being available to him, working at my profession, taking care of the home, and doing some things for myself when I realized what I needed most was exercise. So I joined a gym. As I viewed the available classes, what caught my attention was a class called “Tai Chi.” Having no idea what it was, I decided to check it out. I entered the class, stood in the back and waited for the teacher to start. There was beautiful music, the teacher began, and I fell in love. Deeply, passionately, permanently in love. What I saw was a grace beyond what I had known as a ballet dancer. The grace of taichi made me think of swimming effortlessly in air, with an energy that seemed to flow between the internal and the external, generating a power I couldn’t understand. I learned every form this teacher taught, never wavering in my love of the movements and the practice.


Soon I wanted more, and one of my classmates told me of another teacher at another gym. I decided to go check it out. It was one of the best decisions I have ever made. Although my first teacher had beautiful form, there was a disconnect between his personality and the practice, an incongruence that did not belong in the discipline of taichi.


These new teachers, Ming and Su, a husband and wife team, were kind, patient, respectful of their students, and an embodiment of the practice itself. I took more and more classes with them, enhancing my learning and eventually participating in the demonstrations they performed at the Texas Folklife Festival and the San Antonio Asian Festival. I still remember the gasp of the audience the very first time we performed the Taichi Fan form and opened our fans in unison, creating the impressive “sha” sound Ming had been working towards achieving. It was thrilling!

I relished taking four classes a week, two evenings and two mornings. I was learning whatever they taught: qigong, Yang 24 form, 42 Competition form, Chen 18 form, 32 and 42 sword forms, Taichi Fan, and increasingly advanced forms. Often, those of us who were most committed would keep our generous and dedicated teachers long after class ended with questions about refinements, increasing our understanding. Classes were fun with challenges to mind and body and plenty of laughter. Ming has an incomparable gift for simplifying the elements of the movements so they could be understood and executed in the best way possible. Su has a gift for teaching the more subtle aspects of the form; the underlying principles of energy movement, the expression of power, and the art and philosophy of taichi. They elevate us and to guide us in mastering this practice to our highest capacity. It was never enough for me and I loved it all.


Ming and Su attract students who enjoy taichi as much as I do, and it has bound us in a deep way. As I became more proficient, I find delight in helping new students as an assistant or substitute for our teachers. Several of us even traveled as a group to China twice, two unforgettable and remarkable trips enhanced by our love of taichi. Everywhere we went we would do a form together, surprising the locals at how skilled and passionate these Americans were. A reflection of Ming and Su’s excellent teaching.


Tai Chi has sustained and nourished me in so many ways. From just participating in classes, I moved to feeling like a member of a community, and even a family. In the last few years, I have had a great deal of upheaval and challenges in my life. Taichi has been a solid constant, offering me reprieve, support, and grounding when I need it the most.

I have practiced the forms in my mind while waiting, while anxious or distressed, or when I can’t sleep, always calming and reassuring me. My taichi family has been there supporting me, lending shoulders to cry on, offering bread on my table, encouragement, hope, and love. Many enduring friendships have been forged as we have celebrated, grieved, and shared our lives.


Ming and Su have continued to grow as teachers and are even better than when I first started. It speaks to their grace and humility that they are always learning and imparting their knowledge to us. Like all good love stories, this one has endured. For almost 20 years, I have never wavered. Like all good love stories, I continue to be happily as in love with taichi as that first moment I saw it. I have no doubt that I will continue to feel the same for many years to come.

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